Make friends, not contacts

When I started my career, the biggest advice I heard was to “network.”

If I wanted to meet my future co-founder or new clients, I had to just “go network with people.”

I had no idea what that meant.

Did I have to play golf with businessmen or be invited to some secret party in Silicon Valley??

Now having spent my entire career building communities and forming partnerships, I finally understood what my mentors really meant.

Networking wasn’t about going to a bunch of conferences and exchanging business cards.

Networking is simply about making friends.

Wait, that’s it? That’s your big revelation??

Let me explain.

People do business with people they like and trust.

And who do we like and trust?

Our friends!

If you reflect back on all the people who’ve helped you and whom you’ve helped in business, what do they all have in common?

If I had to guess, it would be that you felt closer to those folks than others.

Almost like a friend-like kinship. 😉

The opposite is also true.

Think about a time when you’ve worked with a client or a team member who you didn’t like or trust.

I bet doing business with them was extremely challenging.

Whether you’re building a business, selling a product, or building partnerships… you will be more successful if you are good at turning these contacts into friends.

How does this apply to me?

The most common sales/partnerships mistake I’ve seen is when entrepreneurs take off their “friend” hat and put on their “business” hat.

  • They hard sell right off the bat.
  • They obsess about their own self-interests.
  • They don’t keep in touch with the people they have met.
  • They spam their prospects with irrelevant marketing messages.
  • They don’t show any interest in the other person’s hopes, dreams, or fears.

It’s not a surprise that no one is responding to cold emails from these people.

Instead ask yourself: what would a good friend do?

A good friend would…

  • Check in to see how they’re doing as a human.
  • Spend quality time together, in and out of the business world.
  • Offer to make introductions to potential clients, hires, or partners.
  • Share relevant news, books, or articles they would be interested in.
  • Recommend the option that’s best for the other person, even if that means not working with your company.

I especially love the last point.

Good friends look out for what’s best for YOU.

I’ve been lucky to work with entrepreneurs who’ve embodied this spirit.

1 - As a business

When I recruited new members at MMT Community, an exclusive community for entrepreneurs, I regularly had calls with people who were not the right fit. They were looking for something we weren’t quite offering.

Instead of hard selling our product, we happily recommended other organizations, even making introductions directly with those community leaders.

Time and time again, those same applicants spoke highly of our community to their friends who have later applied to MMT, bringing us more business than ever.

2 - As a consultant

When I worked for myself as a marketing consultant, I often turned down new business, even when I could technically do the job, because I knew there were better options for the other person.

Those same people who I said no to later introduced me to new clients that were a much better fit for my business. Saying no actually made our personal friendships stronger because they know I have their best interests at heart.  

3 - As a job-seeker

When Eric Bahn (co-founder of Hustle Fund VC) wanted to work with me many years ago, I declined because the timing wasn’t right.

Eric asked me, as a friend, what exactly was I looking for. After I shared a short description, he then went out of his way to help me find opportunities that were better for me.

It’s no surprise that I immediately thought of working with Eric the moment I became a free agent.

Why does all this good stuff happen to people who go in with the friend mindset?

It’s simple: people do business with people who they like and trust.

Say it louder for the people in the back

The key to “networking” is not about collecting contacts. It’s about making friends.

We do business with people we like and trust. So be a good friend and look out for the best interests of those around you.

If you have this mindset when you go into your next sales meeting, we promise you’ll have so much more success over the long run.

Good luck!

Tam Pham has spent the last decade helping entrepreneurs strategize their business goals, design community experiences, and build & launch new products. Former clients include Mastermind Talks, The Hustle, Mixergy, 500 Startups, FourSigmatic, and several NYT bestselling authors. For fun, Pham writes Tam's Jam, a monthly newsletter exploring the question, "How do I live a meaningful life?"